Fatah party stages first rally in Gaza since 2007

Updated 04 January 2013
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Fatah party stages first rally in Gaza since 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Leaders of the Palestinian Fatah party led tens of thousands of supporters Friday in a mass rally in the Gaza Strip, the first such gathering for the largely secular party in the territory since the rival Islamist Hamas seized power there in 2007.
The demonstration, which was condoned by Hamas, showed how the long-bitter relations between the rival Palestinian factions have improved since an Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in November.
While Friday’s rally pointed to the improving ties between Hamas and Fatah, it also served as a reminder of the conflicts within Fatah that continue to dog the movement: Officials canceled the event halfway through after 20 people were injured due to overcrowding, and shoving matches erupted between separate Fatah factions.
Yahiya Rabah, a top Fatah official in Gaza, said the rally was canceled “due to the huge number of participants and logistical failures.”
But witnesses said one pushing match was between supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and partisans of former Fatah’s former Gaza security commander Mohammed Dahlan, who was expelled from the party because of conflicts with Abbas.
Another Fatah official, who spoke anonymously because he did not want to embarrass the party, said the rally was canceled because hundreds of Dahlan supporters jumped up on the stage and clashed with Abbas supporters.
Fatah spokesman Fayez Abu Etta attributed the injuries to overcrowding and the excitement of the rally.
Overnight, throngs had camped out in a downtown Gaza square to ensure themselves a spot for the anniversary commemoration of Fatah’s 1965 founding, and tens of thousands marched early Friday carrying Fatah banners. When the rally began, people stampeded to the stage to try to shake leaders’ hands.
Hamas was not directly involved in the event but allowed it to take place. Top Fatah officials arrived in Gaza for the first time since they were ousted from Gaza by Hamas in 2007.
Abbas, who rules in the West Bank, did not attend the event, but spoke to the crowd via a televised address, telling them that “there is no substitute for national unity.”
Organizers then ended the rally, canceling the other planned speeches and musical performances.
Hamas has gained new support among Palestinians following eight days of fighting with Israel in November, during which Israel pounded the seaside strip from the air and sea, while Palestinians militants lobbed rockets toward the Israeli cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for the first time.
Following the fighting, relations have thawed somewhat between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas was allowed to hold its first West Bank rallies since the 2007 split in which Hamas seized Gaza and Fatah was left in control of the West Bank. Hamas returned the favor Friday by allowing the Fatah rally.
Senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath said the party received a congratulatory message from Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who expressed hope that the two factions could reconcile their differences and work together as joint representatives of the Palestinian people.
“This festival will be like a wedding celebration for Palestine, Jerusalem, the prisoners, the refugees and all the Palestinians,” Shaath said.
Reconciliation between the two factions, however, is still far from a done deal. Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, considered more pragmatic than Hamas’ Gaza-based hard-line leaders, forged a reconciliation agreement with Abbas in 2011.
But the Gaza-based leadership, unsupportive of the deal, has held up implementing it. Fatah enjoys Western support and has been pressured not to forge a unity agreement with the militant Hamas — facing a potential cutback in foreign aid if it does. Hamas has carried out hundreds of deadly attacks against Israeli citizens and is regarded by the US and Israel as a terrorist organization.
Fadwa Taleb, 46, who worked as a police officer during the previous rule of Fatah, gathered at the rally with her family. “We feel like birds freed from our cage today,” Taleb said. “We are happy and feel powerful again.”
A Gaza security official said a Fatah-linked former aide to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died of a heart attack in the square overnight, saying he was shocked by the large crowd that was allowed to gather.
In the West Bank, Palestinian President Abbas signed a presidential decree changing the name of the Palestinian Authority to the “State of Palestine,” following the Palestinians’ upgraded status at the United Nations as a non-member observer state.
According to the decree, reported by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa Thursday night, all stamps, signs, and official letterhead will be changed to bear the new name.
It is the first concrete, albeit symbolic, step the Palestinians have taken following the November decision by the United Nations. Abbas has hesitated to take more dramatic steps, like filing war crimes indictments against Israel at the International Criminal Court, a tactic that only a recognized state can carry out.


Iran’s Revolutionary Guard chief flays activists seeking talks with US

A Russian-made S-300 air defense system, left, is on display for the annual Defense Week, in Tehran, Iran. (AP)
Updated 4 min 48 sec ago
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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard chief flays activists seeking talks with US

  • 100 Iranian activists wrote an open letter in which they asked Iranian leaders to hold “direct and unconditional talks” with the US to solve its differences with Washington
  • We have the scientific ability to increase our missile range but it is not our current policy since most of the enemies’ strategic targets are already within this 2,000-km range

LONDON, TEHRAN: Iran has no plans to extend the range of its missiles since their 2,000-km reach is enough to protect the country, the Revolutionary Guards commander said on Tuesday, amid mounting US pressure over Tehran’s missile program.
The Guard also criticized Iranian activists who signed an open letter last week asking Iran’s leaders to take part in direct talks with Washington, saying they have “sided with the US, the enemy of the people.”
The website of the Guard on Tuesday quoted Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari as saying “their recent action is a 100-signature letter asking for talks with Trump. They have accompanied the US, the enemy of the people.”
“Possibly some of them were assigned” to sign the letter, he said, without offering evidence.
On Sunday, Iranian media reported that 100 Iranian activists, mostly foreign-based, wrote an open letter in which they asked Iranian leaders to hold “direct and unconditional talks” with the US to solve its differences with Washington.

No plans to increase missile range
Iran’s government ruled out negotiations with US President Donald Trump over Tehran’s military capabilities and regional influence, saying that such talks would be against the values of the Islamic Republic.
Trump withdrew the US last month from the 2015 accord between Iran and world powers that curbed Tehran’s nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief.
He said the deal was deeply flawed as it had not curbed Iran’s ballistic missile program or reined in its support for proxies in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and said Washington would reimpose tough sanctions on Tehran.
“We have the scientific ability to increase our missile range but it is not our current policy since most of the enemies’ strategic targets are already within this 2,000-km range. This range is enough to protect the Islamic Republic...,” Jafari was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
Jafari said on Tuesday previous negotiations with the United States about Iran’s nuclear program were “an exception,” and called Iranian politicians and activists who have favored fresh talks with Trump as “traitors and anti-revolutionaries.”
On Saturday, over 100 activists associated with the moderate and reformist camps in Iranian politics welcomed Trump’s deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un envisaging a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
In a statement published by Iranian media, the activists urged Tehran to start direct negotiations with Washington “with no preconditions” to resolve decades of enmity between the two countries dating to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Jafari rejected their call. “The North Korean leader was a revolutionary but a communist, not an Islamic one. That is why he surrendered, but we will not do the same,” he was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying.
Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht echoed Jafari’s remarks. “There are no grounds or logic to talk to such a person (Trump). Public opinion would not welcome that either,” Nobakht was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.
Jafari said previously that the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles was based on limits set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who commands the armed forces.